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article imageAuthorities dismantle giant homeless camp in Silicon Valley

By Nathan Salant     Dec 5, 2014 in Odd News
San Jose - Santa Clara County authorities began removing Thursday dozens of plywood shelters and ratty tents used by homeless people in Silicon Valley, the heart of the nation's high-tech industry.
Dismantling of the Jungle encampment, one of the largest in the country, began days after as many as 200 residents were warned that their San Jose camp would be shut down.
Authorities came through Monday to spread the word that the sprawling camp would be closed Thursday and that people's belongings left after that day would be confiscated, according to the Associated Press.
Officials had warned for years that they would eventually close the Jungle, just a few blocks from the heart of downtown San Jose.
The one square mile camp was last cleared out in 2012, the AP said.
But dozens of city workers, many wearing white hazmat suits and hard hats, driving heavy equipment swept into the camp before dawn Thursday to clear the site.
More than two dozen police officers assisted workers in helping residents leave as workers used bulldozers to pull down structures and loaded trucks with mountains of trash as rats scurried away.
Excavation of the site, including clearing out and filling-in areas where people had been living below ground, should take days, the AP said.
"I just grabbed what I could because I did not want to go to jail," former truck driver Al Palaces told the AP as he stood with an overloaded shopping car filled with muddy plastic bags.
Nancy Ortega was crying as she watched tractors fill garbage trucks with camp detrius and a passing motorist shout at evictees.
"People drive by and look at us like we're circus animals," Ortega said as she dragged belongings through the mud.
"It's junk to everyone else," she told the AP. "But to us, these are our homes."
Most camp residents were moved by mid-morning but many still remained, urged on by a group of protesters who gathered at the site carrying signs reading "Homeless people matter" and "Stand with The Jungle."
Journeyman construction worker Valentine Cortes said he would not leave the shelter he had dug into a steep slope.
"I don't know why people got all chaotic today," he said. "We don't have to go."
But Valentine said he was willing to be arrested if ordered to leave, the AP said.
San Jose homeless response manager Ray Bramson said authorities would try to find shelter for displaced Jungle residents for at least one night.
HomeFirst, Santa Clara County's largest homeless service provider, said it had 27 beds set aside for Jungle residents and had 50 other beds at a cold-weather shelter nearby.
"This feels terrible," HomeFirst CEO Jenny Niklaus told the AP.
"People are up to their calves in the mud, dragging their stuff into the street," she said.
Property confiscated Thursday will be held by the city for 90 days, the AP said.
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